Goals: MC: Flitcroft (20), Rösler (42). I: Mason (73).
Line up: Dibble, Edghill, D.Brightwell, I.Brightwell (Kernaghan), Curle, Flitcroft, Summerbee, Walsh (Simpson), Quinn, Rösler, Beagrie
Report by: Paul Howarth
Trips to Ipswich haven't brought City much success in recent years, the last win being a 4-2 success back in August 1961, so this visit to the side propping up the Premiership table looked like a great opportunity to rid ourselves of one of our 'bogeys' and pick up three useful away points into the bargain. The day started off with cloudy skies and rain as we headed South down the M6 and it didn't get much better until about half an hour before kick-off when the sun came out. As we took our seats in the Portman Stand it became clear that this wasn't such a good thing as the sun would be in our eyes whenever the action was in the left hand half of the field. As it happened, this proved not to be a problem...
The City side had only one change from the side that finished the Coca-Cola Cup tie against Newcastle on Wednesday, Richard Edghill replacing Steve Lomas (suffering with a 'flu-like virus) at right back. The Ipswich side was missing the belligerent ex-Oldham striker Ian Marshall, veteran defender John Wark, slightly younger defender Mick Stockwell and the much younger striker Chris Kiwomya. If ever City were going to win at Portman Road, this would surely be the day.
City were on the attack straight from the kick-off, playing towards the goal on the right. In the first half hour Ipswich showed virtually no ambition, seemingly playing for a goalless draw. The ball was almost permanently in the Ipswich half and the bright sunshine coming over the stand opposite was causing nobody any problems. Despite all the possession, City didn't create much in the way of chances and it was Ipswich who nearly took the lead in the fifteenth minute. There was a mix-up between Keith Curle, David Brightwell and Andy Dibble who all seemed to leave the ball to each other. Ruben Sosa's Uruguayan strike partner Adrian Paz stole in between the three of them and poked the ball just wide of the left hand upright. The little South American was a tricky customer and looked to be the most likely source of an Ipswich goal.
This scare sparked City into creating a few more openings, one of which led to the first goal. Peter Beagrie cut in from the left, his low ball into the penalty area was blocked by Steve Sedgley but it rebounded back to Beagrie who fed it into Garry Flitcroft's path; Flitcroft rifled a low, hard shot from 25 yards just inside the left hand post to put City one up in the 21st minute. City continued to attack, encountering very little resistance from the home side. Richard Edghill, playing his first game since the derby disaster seemed eager to impress after his spell in the reserves. He made some good runs down the right where he was finding a lot of space and was causing problems for the Ipswich defence. It wasn't until half an hour had been played that Ipswich started to make a game of it, and even then they only managed a speculative effort from 22 yards which was comfortably gathered by Dibble. This shot and Paz's effort 15 minutes earlier were the only two shots on goal Ipswich managed in the whole of the first half.
City went two up in the 41st minute; Quinn held up the ball and then threaded it between two defenders to Summerbee, who then hit a glorious chip diagonally over the square Ipswich defence to Rösler, who volleyed it home first time from just outside the corner of the six yard box. City were completely dominating the game with Flitcroft in particular being inspirational. Ian Brightwell was booked for a late challenge just before the break, slightly unluckily in my opinion. At half time the lads went off to jubilant applause from the visiting fans who were no doubt expecting more goals in the second half and some significant repairs to the damage done to our goal difference in the derby.
The electronic scoreboard was a source of amusement during the interval; the half time scores included those of 'Forrest', 'Aresnal', 'Chealsea' and 'Southhampton'. The scoreboard operator was obviously having as bad a day as the team. Ipswich had not allowed live radio commentary of the game, citing it as one of the causes of the poor attendances so far this season. The attendance of 13,504 was still one of their lowest of the season but I'd say it was more to do with the very poor standard of play from the home team.
City made a change at half time, Alan Kernaghan replacing Ian Brightwell who had apparently picked up a calf strain. He got a good reception from the City fans who thankfully seem to be giving him a second chance. Ipswich seemed to have changed the whole team. They came at City as if their lives depended on it. During the course of this season we've seen a number of 'tales of two halves' but this game saw the biggest turnaround of possession, if not goals that I can remember seeing for a very long time. On 49 minutes Ipswich were given a free kick just outside the box. I thought the Ipswich forward had taken a dive but referee Stephen Hodge thought otherwise. The strange thing was that the 'foul' clearly looked to be inside the box so this was a bit of a let-off for City.
Ipswich continued to press forward and decided to bring on striker Stuart Slater in place of defender David Linighan on the hour. When he was at West Ham, Slater looked to be an excellent prospect but since leaving the East End his career has gone distinctly downhill. Nevertheless, the extra man in a forward position helped the home side turn the screw and it seemed like a goal was inevitable. City's defence had lost all shape; Edghill was getting caught out of position, clearances were just being hoofed up the field instead of being passed out to a City player and even Keith Curle seemed to be lacking in confidence, kicking the ball into the stand where he would normally dribble round the attacker. In the 70th minute Fitzroy Simpson replaced Paul Walsh; this looked to be a tactical move, replacing an attacking midfielder with a defensive one but Brian Horton said in a post-match interview that Walsh was suffering with 'flu (as were several other members of the squad) and that was why he was replaced. Either way it made little difference and Ipswich scored four minutes later. Paz beat Curle, laying the ball back to Paul Mason whose low shot through a crowded penalty area beat David Brightwell's attempt at blocking it, Dibble's dive and Kernaghan's last-ditch goal-line clearance attempt.
At this time an equaliser looked certain. It wasn't until the last five minutes that I thought we might even get away with a draw, such was the turnaround in fortunes. City had a few chances on the break in the last few minutes though; the best fell to Quinn on 84 minutes after good work by Beagrie but the Irishman could only chip the ball into Craig Forrest's hands. Beagrie also created a couple of chances for Rösler on 85 and 87 minutes; the first was a near post header which went over the bar and the second was a shot hit past the post. Injury time seemed to go on forever with the City fans whistling frantically for the final whistle. With three significant stoppages in the second half, nobody was really sure how long the match would go on. Ipswich forced a series of corners, pushing virtually everybody forward but it was not to be their day. At seven minutes to five the referee finally blew for full time and the City fans started singing 'Jingle Bells' (...Oh what fun it is to see City win away...). A hundred or so Ipswich fans ran onto the pitch from the right hand side and the City fans broke into the traditional 'Sack the board'. This went down well with the pitch invaders who came over to the City fans and conducted the singing. Even the stewards were joining in.
So, three points away from home and a win at Ipswich at last. It made the long journey (over four hours each way, even using the A14, a dual carriageway which now runs from the southern end of the M6 all the way to Ipswich) worthwhile. Maybe we'll win at Highbury or Old Trafford before much longer? Well, not on that second half performance we won't. With games against Arsenal, Liverpool, Blackburn and Newcastle coming up, points are going to be a lot harder to come by methinks.
Goals: MC: Simpson (81). A: Smith (31), Schwartz (34).
Line up: Dibble, Kerr (Kernaghan), Lomas, Curle, I.Brightwell, Flitcroft, Summerbee, Walsh, Quinn, Rösler, Beagrie (Simpson).
Report by: Martin Ford
There I was defending Brian Horton and asking everybody to give him a chance and support him. Then what happens, he decides to have tactical nightmare. Against a weakened Arsenal side, he plays what can only be called a defensive side, instead of the forthright attacking side we've been accustomed to at home matches. This just played straight into Arsenal hands.
City started with the formation like this:
Dibble Kerr Curle Brightwell (I) Lomas Walsh Flitcroft Summerbee Beagrie Quinn Rösler Subs, Margetson, Simpson, Kernaghan
Summerbee appeared to have moved into centre with Walsh dropping into the midfield. We all know Summerbee can't win a tackle, so why push him into a midfield battle? City just couldn't get to grips with Arsenal team and failed in every way to match them. Arsenal dominated the early game and it was just a matter of time before they scored. City's cause wasn't helped with the early departure of Beagrie, he hadn't looked fit from the start, but any chance of seriously creating chances went with him leaving the field, to be replaced by Simpson.
Arsenal took the lead when Dixon crossed from the right and Smith was on hand to put the ball away (another goal coming from City's left side!!). Would this signal the Arsenal onslaught I'd been waiting. A second very nearly came when within minutes when a Schwarz's freekick hit the woodwork. Before City could compose themselves Schwarz's did get the second, he chased a through ball and as Dibble came out he pushed the ball passed him. So within the space of 3 minutes Arsenal had gone 2-0 up and to be perfectly honest they deserved it. The only response City could muster, should have brought a goal, Quinn headed a ball back across goal and Walsh somehow managed to miss the target. So City went in 2 goals down, would they get back into the game, I seriously doubted it.
Horton made a further change at half-time, replacing Kerr with Kernaghan. He seemed to make the defence a bit more robust, but still Arsenal were given the time and room to play. It wasn't until further tactical moves forced on the team due to injuries that they finally managed to get back into the game, Curle was moved into midfield while carrying an injury, Lomas was freed from the right-back spot and replaced by the ineffective attacking display from Summerbee, which meant that City were basically down to a three man defence. Although having said that Arsenal could still have scored. Campbell hit the bar after being allowed to run unchallenged, the rebound fell to Parlour after a Simpson mistake and Dibble was forced to saved. Dibble was the more active of the two keepers and was forced to make a number of saves. Bartram at the other end had still to make a real save, althoug he had tipped a Walsh shot over and saved a Rösler effort.
City finally got a break when a Walsh corner was only half cleared, Kernaghan knocked the ball back in, it was cleared again to the edge of the box, where Simpson was on hand to bang the ball home. This goal managed to wake the players and they now tried to get an equaliser, but with ten minutes left City couldn't get one, and so were forced to endure their first home defeat of the season.
City had played so poorly that they had deserved to get beat by another 3-4 goals. To make matters worse it appears as though Curle will be out for several games after damaging his hamstring AGAIN. Walsh, Rösler and Beagrie all got knocks, will any of them miss the trip to Upton Park? The one good(ish) thing to come out of the game was the display by Kernaghan. I'll admit to being one of his fiercest critics in the past but the way he played from coming on from half-time was a refreshing change. He played very well and won many important challenges when needed. I would say he was City's best defender on the night, let's hope his confidence is back and he can prove all us doubter's wrong. As for the rest of the team, the less said the better, they were pitiful, they lacked any sort of enthusiam and were quite content to let Arsenal have a free run.
Arsenal to their credit, even though playing with a patched up team, and having failed to win in the previous 6 games wanted to win. They were willing to work hard and support each other. They had far more committment to win and made space and time for each other (even though City gifted them the time by not putting them under any sort of pressure), they were the more creative side.
The final scoreline flatters City, they should have been buried. Let's just hope the live TV apathy has gone and City get on and play against the Hammers'. I just wish City were never on live TV again (not until we reach a final at least), every time they play they collapse, are they frightened of playing on TV? It just get's so annoying and frustrating to sit there and watch the team fall apart.
Goals: W: Cottee (7, 10, 57)
Line up: Dibble, Kerr (Vonk), D.Brightwell (Foster), Kernaghan, I.Brightwell, Flitcroft, Lomas, Summerbee, Walsh, Quinn, Rösler.
Report by: Paul Howarth
Upton Park, like most of the top grounds in the country, has seen much development work over the last few seasons; since our visit last season the Bobby Moore Stand has opened at the end where the away fans used to be housed, the paddocks down the sides (including the famous "chicken run") have had plastic tip-up seats bolted onto them and the other end has been completely replaced by a small double- decker stand, due to open shortly. Away fans will be housed in the lower tier of this new North Stand when it opens. The Bobby Moore Stand is an impressive structure which augers well for the new Kippax Stand which is a very similar design, two slightly overlapping tiers with boxes between them. The Kippax will be larger due to it being situated down the side of the pitch and having a (very) small third tier. I'd like to think that it too will be named after one our heroes, Joe Mercer for instance.
Despite the lack of terracing and one end being completely empty, the close proximity of the stands to the pitch helps to generate quite a bit of atmosphere. Looking at the upcoming fixtures (Newcastle, Blackburn, Liverpool etc.) I thought that this fixture presented us with our best chance of a win for quite a while. West Ham had only scored 12 goals in their 18 league games and star striker Tony Cottee was going through the most barren goal scoring spell of his career - 3 months since his last goal. Even with the addition of ex-City star Michael Hughes (making his home debut) on loan from Strasbourg, our makeshift defence of Dibble, Kerr, D.Brightwell, Kernaghan and I.Brightwell should be able to cope. At the other end, City fielded Walsh, Quinn and Rosler against a defence containing 37-year old Alvin Martin at its centre.
It took only ten minutes to shatter any illusions that this might be any easy game for City. The Hammers came at City straight from the kick-off and had already created a procession of chances when Cottee opened the scoring in the seventh minute. He pounced on a loose ball in the City area, turned sharply to lose Ian Brightwell and fired in a good, low shot which was parried by Dibble. Unfortunately for City, the rebound went straight to Cottee who poked it home. Three minutes later it was 2-0 after a sweeping move down the right wing. The ball was swung in to Cottee, who had started the move in his own penalty area; he evaded Kernaghan's lunging challenge and flicked the ball over the onrushing Dibble from 12 yards. West Ham continued to dominate the game with another ex-City star Ian Bishop finding acres of space in midfield and basically running the show. An excellent 20- yard volley by Mattie Holmes could have made it 3-0 but for the fingertips of Dibble which pushed it wide.
City seemed clueless as to how to create chances and were generally lethargic. Maybe all of them had 'flu this time? Absentees Beagrie and Curle were sorely missed as neither defence nor attack seemed to know what they were doing. In the whole of the first half, City made two openings: firstly, Buzzer broke through from the centre of midfield but when he was caught and challenged by a defender, Quinn was unable to pick up the loose ball. The second came from a free kick by Buzzer which presented David Brightwell with a free header; he should have scored but was well wide. At the other end Dibble kept us in the game with a number of good saves. Without exaggerating, it could well have been five or six nil by half time.
Whilst browsing through the programme at half time, I noticed an advert for West Ham season tickets; they ranged from 145 pounds in the lower tier of the Bobby Moore Stand to 240 pounds in the middle of the upper tiers at both sides of the ground. Considering the typical prices for London games, I thought this wasn't too bad until I realised that these were for the rest of the current season, not next season! I suppose we can be thankful for small mercies - City don't rip us off for season tickets (yet).
Michel Vonk replaced David Kerr at half-time, with Ian Brightwell moving out to right back and Vonk and Kernaghan in the centre. There seemed to be a slight improvement after the break but City never looked like getting back into the game. West Ham got the killer 3rd goal in the 57th minute; a superb through ball from Ian Bishop bisected City's midfield and defence and Tony Cottee ran onto it, near the right-hand corner of the penalty area. He cut inside Alan Kernaghan and hit a curling left-foot shot in off the far post, completing his first hat-trick for eight years. It was just a matter of how many more the Hammers would score now. Matthew Rush was booked for a unprovoked attack on Niall Quinn; he seemed to hit Quinn's knee with his studs and it looked serious for a while. After a couple of minutes' treatment though, Quinn was OK and fit to carry on. Shortly afterwards, David Brightwell was booked for felling Rush in full stride, which was met by cheers from the Blues' fans. Between these two bookings, City created their best chance of the second half. Walsh broke down the right wing and squared the ball to Quinn who was just outside the penalty area. Quinn's shot was aimed low, just inside the post but it lacked power and Miklosko was able to palm it wide. In the 65th minute, Kernaghan was caught in possession by Jeroen Boere just inside the centre circle. He pulled him down and I was amazed to see him get just a yellow card. With only Dibble between Boere and the City goal it was a clear goal scoring opportunity and I felt Kernaghan should have been sent off. Fortunately for City he wasn't and he went on to make some important tackles later on. With two minutes to go, David Brightwell (who had picked up a knock a couple of minutes earlier and was clearly unfit to continue) was replaced by John Foster. The youngster made an immediate impact, using his pace to snuffle out the last couple of attacks before the final whistle.
The defence looked better in the second half but this was probably due to West Ham taking their foot off the accelerator after going three up. This was a truly dreadful performance, worse by some margin than the derby. At least the defeats against United and Arsenal were by teams playing very well. This was apparently West Ham's best performance of the season but they still didn't look a particularly good side. There was virtually no commitment from the City players who looked like they didn't want to know. I hope they're ashamed of themselves. I feel very sorry for the people who've only seen City in London this season; with the exception of the QPR games they've seen gutless, shambolic performances every time. Something needs to be done and it needs to be soon. Without Curle, City leak far too many goals and without Beagrie they don't look like scoring any. I was at Maine Road on Sunday to collect my ticket for Notts County; the murmurs amongst the fans were that that is a game City must win if Brian Horton is to keep his job. The intervening games already seem to be lost causes.
Goals: MC: Rösler (11), Walsh (80)
Line up: Dibble, Foster, Lomas, I.Brightwell, Kernaghan, Flitcroft, Gaudino (Quinn), Summerbee, Walsh, Rösler, Beagrie.
Report by: Paul Howarth
Nobody (myself included) thought we had a chance of getting a result from this game after Newcastle's patched-up side had outplayed what is arguably our strongest side in the first game at Maine Road. This time both sides had their injury problems, the Magpies missing Lee, Beardsley and Sellars and City without Coton, Curle, Phelan and Edghill, Beagrie playing with the aid of a pain-killing injection. Making his debut for City was German international Maurizio Gaudino who bears more than a passing resemblance to Uwe Rosler, except that he's a bit bigger and has longer hair. He's taken over Steve McMahon's number four shirt and appears to be the same type of player, offering us some tackling ability and creativity in the centre. City's makeshift defence consisted of John Foster at right back, Steve Lomas at left back and Ian Brightwell plus Alan Kernaghan in the middle. Niall Quinn was on the bench, so Garry Flitcroft took over the captaincy. It was to be an unforgettable night for him as well as for us at a frosty St. James' Park.
The last week before Christmas is traditionally bad for attendances but over 30,000 turned up to see this festive Cup tie. Although City had returned about 2,000 tickets unsold, there were still about 4,000 Blues in the crowd, some seated in the north-east corner (excellent view) and the rest stood in the paddock at the front of the West Stand. St. James' Park has been transformed in the last two seasons, the latest addition being a new stand at the Gallowgate end (where we stood last season) which rises up into the night sky to about the same height as the huge Leazes Stand. The stadium is situated on a hill, with the Gallowgate end being at the lowest point, so the stand actually sits on a mass of huge concrete stilts. The stand is far from being complete, with both corners, interior facilities, turnstiles and external walls still under construction but is nevertheless an impressive structure. If the redeveloped Maine Road looks as good as St. James' Park then I for one won't be complaining.
The first chance of the game came in the opening minute, Cole's first touch taking him between Brightwell and Kernaghan but his low, hard shot into the far corner was pushed away by Dibble's fingertips for a corner. Against our expectations, City were clearly going to make a game of it and looked in a far more confident, determined mood than any game they've been in since the first half at Ipswich. The first ten minutes were quite even, both sides looking equally likely to score. In the 11th minute, Gaudino won a corner which was knocked short by Summerbee to Foster on the edge of the area. When a defender came to challenge him, he returned the ball to Summerbee who crossed it in towards the penalty spot. Rosler got in front of two defenders to chest the ball down and then poked the ball past Srnicek before any of the defenders could get a foot in. So, a surprise one goal lead in the 11th minute; surely it was too early to score for a side with a renowned inability to hang on to a lead?
As expected, Newcastle piled on the pressure, getting in a series of crosses and corners. From one of these corners, Peacock got in a header which was dipping just underneath the bar but Dibble managed to tip it over. City were defending very deep, effectively conceding the midfield to Newcastle and getting lots of bodies in the penalty area to block crosses, passes and shots. Brightwell was outstanding, a rock in defence, not allowing the Newcastle forwards any time or space to turn and also by getting in some superb interceptions. Kernaghan was also in good form, getting in a lot of clearing headers from crosses which were heading for Newcastle heads. Despite the relentless pressure from the home side, City were still able to break out and create their own chances occasionally. From one of these, Beagrie knocked the ball across the edge of the penalty area, Rosler let it run behind him to Gaudino who was in a lot of space but he dallied on the ball and was harried by the excellent John Beresford into shooting wide.
Newcastle's main source of danger was Ruel Fox down the right, up against Steve Lomas. Fox had a devastating spell in the first half where he was sending Lomas all over the place and getting in some dangerous crosses. From one of these the ball fell to Philippe Albert but he smashed his first time volley from the corner of the 6-yard box over the bar. Cole had a similar effort from a little further out but City's greatest escape came a minute before the break when Kitson cut the ball back and Kernaghan's attempted headed clearance hit Dibble's chest and dropped to the floor. Foster kicked the ball off the line straight to Lee Clark, whose stabbed shot hit Foster's head and flew over the bar. After this incident I thought to myself that City's name must be on the Cup!
Would City be able to stem the tide of pressure in the second half? If anything, they defended better in the second half, putting more pressure on the midfield players and forcing them into hurried passes rather than giving them the time to pick their spot. Beagrie dropped back to help out Lomas and the threat from Fox was much reduced. The effort and commitment from the City players was tremendous, everybody getting back to help out and with bodies blocking shots and making tackles whenever a Newcastle player got the ball in the box. On the hour, Quinn replaced Gaudino who was clearly exhausted and will probably need about six weeks to get accustomed to the pace of the English game. I was surprised to see Quinn come on, as Vonk was also on the bench. Instead of the usual ploy of pulling Walsh back into midfield, this time it was Rosler who moved back and played most of the rest of the game on the edge of his own box, being the outlet for City clearances and challenging Newcastle players. Quinn up front gave Newcastle some different problems but the game was still being played almost exclusively in the City half.
Andy Cole had a couple of snapshot chances but there was always somebody there to clear the ball away, usually Alan Kernaghan. On 64 minutes, Paul Bracewell replaced Swiss full back Hottiger and came on to a hero's welcome (he was making his return after a long spell out with injury). Cole hit the outside of the post when a loose ball fell to him 10 yards out. He must have felt it wasn't going to be his night. As the Magpies poured forward ever more desperately looking for an equaliser. The home side won a number of free kicks outside the box and there was an air of expectancy from the home fans that Albert would strike the ball home. Each time though the ball was hit straight into the wall or charged down by another City player. City began to look more dangerous on the break. Still it was Newcastle who nearly scored when Beresford's cross was missed completely by Kernaghan's attempted volleyed clearance but Dibble got to the ball before Cole or Kitson.
Walsh was looking more lively than he has been in recent weeks, having finally shaken off the 'flu bug; it was Walsh who effectively put the game beyond Newcastle with ten minutes to go after City's best move of the game. Rosler cleared the ball up to Walsh in the centre circle who squared the ball to Quinn. Quinn held the ball up for a few seconds before laying it back to Flitcroft who found Summerbee on the right touchline with a hard, low pass. Buzzer took the ball down the line, evading Watson's challenge and then getting round Beresford at the bye-line. He cut inside on a run reminiscent of his father's in the '69 Cup Final which led to Neil Young's goal. However, instead of cutting the ball back, he attempted to chip the ball over Srnicek and towards the goal. Had he been successful, the chance would probably have gone as Quinn and Walsh were near the corner of the 6 yard box and Peacock would have reached the ball first. However, Srnicek parried the ball and Summerbee headed the rebound towards Walsh and Quinn. The ball skimmed the head of Walsh which probably put Quinn off his attempted volley. The ball dropped to the floor and Walsh got his foot to it first and squeezed the ball between defender and 'keeper. We were ecstatic. Maybe we could actually win this game after all?
Newcastle never really looked like getting back into the game after the second goal but it was still a nail-biting last ten minutes for those of us who had seen City throw away such leads before. Right at the end, Kernaghan and Brightwell collided when racing each other to clear the ball. On Saturday they'd probably have left it to each other - the difference in attitude was remarkable. The collision left Kernaghan injured so he had to be replaced by Vonk. Seconds later, the match was over. The team came over to applaud the fans but it was the players who deserved the applause. Neither set of fans got behind their side as much as in the first game at Maine Road. For us, it was probably low expectations; we hardly got going except in sporadic bursts during the game and in the last few minutes. The Newcastle fans were probably disillusioned by their team's inability to break down an unexpectedly solid defence and indeed by their first home defeat of the season. The Geordies missed the creative influence and leadership of Beardsley and will have played much better than this during the season, but City's performance was one to be admired. It's games and results like this that make up for the disappointments of games like Saturday's at West Ham. For everybody whose faith was reaffirmed tonight (hopefully this will quieten the Horton-bashers for a while), see you on 11th January at Selhurst Park.
Final Score: United 0 City 2
Goals: MC: Quinn (31). BR: Shearer (7), Atkins (16), Le Saux (67)
Line up: Dibble, Foster (Phelan), Lomas, I.Brightwell, Kernaghan, Flitcroft, Gaudino, Summerbee, Quinn, Rösler, Beagrie.
Report by: Martin Ford
This game had all the hallmarks of a defeat even before the match had started, SKY TV had gone and made it a live game, which as every City fan knows isn't the best idea, having only ever won one live SKY game (and about three other live games before then!!!!) So the match kicked off at 20:00 (?), with Rovers knowing that they needed at least a point to go back on top after the RAGS scraped to 3-2 win at Chelsea. (But as it turned out they got all three)
So onto the match. It didn't look promising when it became apparent that Walsh was missing. City were once again shown how to play as a team. Rovers were willing to work hard and support each other and looked like a team wanting to win, whereas City just couldn't get to grips in the early stages. This turned out to be crucial to the result, by the time City had began to get their act together they were already trailing 2-0. Shearer scored the first after 9 minutes, knocking in the rebound after Sutton had headed against the cross- bar. The second goal in the 16th minute, came from a left-side corner that City once again failed to clear properly. The ball was only half cleared to the edge of the box and Atkins lashed the ball home, with a slight (but telling) deflection from Foster. So City were all but dead and buried unless they got there act together (and fast). City got some reward for eventually getting into the game, with Quinn scoring in the 21st minute. He met a Flipper free-kick and glanced the ball past Flowers to give City some hope. But Rover's were still dominant and once City were being given the run around. For all there big buys (Shearer, Sutton, Sherwood, Le Saux to name a few) even the more average Atkins was controlling the midfield.
City nearly grabbed equaliser when Rösler met a Beagrie cross with a diving header, which unfortunately struck the post. So City went in 2- 1 down and were struggling to cope with a dominant Rovers. It didn't get much better in the second half, the only thing that improved was City showing slightly more fight, obviously Horton's wonder boot had some affect on the players. Uwe put himself about as usual and earned a slap from Le Saux. It was Le Saux who had the final say of the game. Brightwell had fouled Sutton on the edge of the box and while City were expecting Shearer to have a blast, Le Saux curled the free-kick past Dibble. That all but wrapped the game up in Rovers favour. Le Saux could count himself lucky to even be on the pitch after earlier getting into a scuffle with Uwe and appearing to push Rösler in the face.
City hadn't played particularly well or competed to there best and it reflected in the way Rovers won quite convincingly. If Dibble hadn't have produced some good saves then it could have been a far worse scoreline. I suppose the one good thing to come out of the result was that Blackburn went back on top, some consolation seeing the RAGS second.
Final Score 1-3
Goals: L: Phelan (55 o.g.), Fowler (82)
Line up: Dibble, Lomas, Phelan, I.Brightwell, Kernaghan, Flitcroft, Gaudino (Vonk), Summerbee, Walsh, Rösler, Beagrie.
Report by: Paul Howarth
The omens didn't look at all good for this game; we were following on from three successive league defeats against an in-form Liverpool side at a ground where we've won only once in the last 40 years. Quinn and Foster had picked up knocks in the Boxing Day defeat by Blackburn, Walsh was suffering with a septic mouth ulcer, Beagrie still hadn't fully recovered from his bruised hip and to cap it all there were little more than 400 City fans to get behind the lads in a crowd of 38,122, comfortably Liverpool's biggest attendance so far this season. An away allocation of just over 1% of capacity is scandalous - even United manage to find nearly 1,800 spaces for away fans which at least gives them some sort of chance to make themselves heard. Sounds like I'm making excuses already doesn't it? There were actually a number of Blues with the home fans, including some from Bergen in Norway who I met at Maine Road before we set off (saw them again at Newcastle too). The new Kop looks quite impressive with about 12,000 red seats (still doesn't look as big as the Kop at Hillsborough or the Holte End at Villa Park) though I read in 'Through The Wind and Rain' (Liverpool fanzine) that it's very cramped and doesn't feel particularly stable under the weight of all those fans!
So, the scene was set for another Newcastle-like backs to the wall defending job and that's exactly how it turned out. Much to our surprise (and relief) Walsh and Beagrie both agreed to play despite their poor health so at least we'd have an outlet. After Phelan's impressive second-half display against Blackburn I was surprised to see him in a more central position, as a second line of defence on the left with Beagrie doing many of the traditional left back jobs. Ian Brightwell and Alan Kernaghan continued their central defensive partnership which has looked quite good despite the recent results and Steve Lomas was right back, helped out by Summerbee who was a bit further forward. Flitcroft and Gaudino did the grafting in midfield with Rösler and Walsh up front.
The first half saw City defend well, restricting Liverpool mainly to speculative shots despite the fact that they had virtually all the possession. Ian Brightwell was magnificent, just as he had been at Newcastle. He and Kernaghan were invariably there to block passes and shots to and from Rush and Fowler, who was distinctly unimpressive. Beagrie and Phelan managed to keep the in-form McManaman subdued, Lomas and Summerbee doing equally well against Barnes on the other side. Anything that did get through was handled well by Dibble who didn't drop a thing. At the other end a strong Liverpool defence of Jones, Babb, Ruddock, Scales and Bjřrnebye coped very easily with the little we threw at them; any crosses sent across were gathered comfortably by David James in the Liverpool goal. At half time I thought a nil-nil draw was quite a likely prospect and I was fairly happy with that.
The second half continued in a similar vein until disaster struck in the 55th minute; Babb hit a cross over from the left side and Phelan got on the end of it, smashing a very powerful header past Dibble who made a superb effort to save it but the one hand he got on the ball wasn't enough. Just what Phelan was trying to do I don't know because if he was trying to knock it wide or over the bar he missed by a long way. The Kop won't have seen many better headed goals (Ian Brightwell's o.g. at Brighton in the promotion season was one) and they graciously chanted his name and cheered him whenever he subsequently touched the ball. A shame really because other than that he had a good game.
Vonk replaced the exhausted Gaudino which was a strange move since Simpson was also on the bench. City never really looked like getting back into the game but there was always hope (remember Niall Quinn's injury time equaliser in 1990?) until Liverpool were awarded a penalty in front of the Kop ten minutes from time when Rush was fouled. I couldn't see the incident very well from the other end so I can't say whether it was a fair decision or not but it followed one of those goalmouth scrambles where everybody's trying to hack the ball away, the sort we got away with against the Magpies. Robbie Fowler (15 league goals already this season) stepped up to take the penalty and hit it well enough but Dibble guessed well and pulled off a brilliant save, just one of many he made in the second half. It looked like it wasn't going to be Fowler's night. Wrong again... two minutes later he cut inside from the right wing and hit an unstoppable swerving shot from about 20 yards. Dibble saw it coming all the way but no goalkeeper on earth would have saved it. Many of the City fans applauded the goal, it was that good. It was just a case of how many Liverpool would score then, such was their dominance. Fortunately City held out without conceding any further goals. I don't think there are many Premiership sides who could live with Liverpool in this form (they went on to dominate the game against Leeds at Elland Road on New Year's Eve) so considering the team we had to put out I don't think this was too bad a performance or result. At least they didn't get five like they often used to!
Final Score: Liverpool 2 Manchester City 0
Man of the Match: Dibble, just edged out Brightwell in the second half.
Goals: MC: Rösler (14, 52). AV: I.Brightwell (54 o.g.), Sounders (59)
Line up: Dibble, Foster, Phelan, I.Brightwell, Kernaghan, Lomas, Flitcroft, Walsh, Summerbee, Rösler, Beagrie.
Report by: Martin Ford
With the festive games having brought little cheer (two defeats), this should have been the game to get the team back on track, Villa in the bottom four, City still in the top half of the table. Villa's 6 draws from their previous 7 games might have given a hint of what to expect. City showed far more committment in the early stages than the Rovers game but still Villa managed to be a threat. With Houghton and Townsend making various off the ball runs, they dragged the defence out of position and left gaps, which nobody could capiltalise on. City got an early and important goal through Uwe after 14 minutes. Lomas had had his shot blocked at least twice, but it fell kindly to Uwe who managed to lift the ball over Spink. This should have been the break City were looking for, but Villa were still in the game and were always a threat. City went in leading 1-0, but they didn't look at all comfortable.
Within 10 minutes of the restart City had taken a 2-0 lead. Beagrie wide on the left had been fouled ? by Staunton (to be perfectly honest I thought Beagrie made a meal of the challenge) next to the corner flag. From the resulting free-kick Uwe powered in an unstoppable header. City were leading 2-0 and must now surely finish the game. However we all know how unpredictable City are and within a minute Villa were handed a lifeline. They won a corner and Staunton's near post cross caused confusion and the balled hit Ian Brightwell and dropped into the goal. This gave Villa even more impetus and within 4 minutes they had drawn level. The ball was played into the box and Taylor's powerful shot was only half saved by Dibble, before any City defender could re-act, Saunders nipped in and scored to make it all square. Even then Villa weren't finished and Dibble produced more saves to keep them at bay. City's only real clear cut reply came from Walsh who's header came back off the cross bar. City could quite easily have lost this game, but thanks to Dibble pulling off some good saves City managed to hang on for a 2-2 draw, pretty ridicuous considering at 2-0 they should have cruised away.
There was another inadequate refereeing display which left a bitter taste in the mouth. Rösler and Staunton clashed for an aerial ball, which left Staunton worst off (looked like Uwe caught him with his elbow!!!). As Rösler bent over to see if Staunton was OK, in came Shaun Teale and punched him in the face, right infront of Joe Worrell. I couldn't believe that no player was booked for their parts. A deliberate punch must warrant a red card and an elbow should have at least been a yellow, but I couldn't believe that Worrell let them all off, that must rate as one of the worst decisions of this season. All we want is consistant refereeing standards, but if they're going to let player's off for punching what chance have we got!